Tag Archives: interference

Rules on Inflight Electronics May be Changing Soon

By Kim Smiley

In welcome news to many airline passengers, it looks like the FAA may soon allow the use of personal electronic devices during the entire duration of flights, including takeoff and landing.  The current restrictions on the use of personal electronics are being reviewed following a recent recommendation by an aviation advisory committee made of up pilots, mechanics, engineers and other aviation experts.

A Cause Map, a visual format for performing a root cause analysis, can be used to analyze this issue.  A Cause Map is built by asking “why” questions and intuitively laying out the many causes that contributed to an issue to show the cause-and-effect relationships.  The first step in the Cause Mapping process is to document the basic background information as well as list how the issue impacts the goals in the an Outline.

One of the major impacts for this example is that there is concern that use of personal electronic devices onboard aircraft may be dangerous and increase the risk of a plane crash.  Currently, the use of personal electronics is allowed once a plane is above 10,000 feet, which is basically the whole flight except landing and takeoff which are considered the most critical portions of the flight.   These restrictions are in place because pilots depend on electronic systems, such as navigation and communications systems, to safely do their job and there is concern about the potential for interference with these vital systems.

How likely it is that dangerous interference could be an actual issue is debated.  There were 75 reports by pilots of suspected electronic device interference between 2003 and 2009, according to the International Air Transport Association.  However, it’s difficult to reproduce interference and it has never been cited as a cause in any airplane accident.  The current ban on the use of electronics also seems to be loosely enforced, raising questions about its necessity and effectiveness.  (A survey by the Consumer Electronics Association also found that nearly a third of airplane passengers said they left on a portable electronic device on a flight during the previous year.)  There seems to be a general consensus that this is low risk issue, but the potentially high consequences if it occurs has made some reluctant to reduce the restrictions.

There are also some non-technical issues that need to be considered with the onboard use of electronics.  There is concern that passengers enthralled with their devices will be distracted and miss important information during preflight safety briefs.  There is also a concern that larger devices, such as laptops, could become a missile hazard and hurt passengers if the plane moves unexpectedly.

If the new recommendations are approved, passengers will be able to use any device that doesn’t transfer data the entire flight, including takeoff and landing.  Passengers would be able to leave all devices turned on, but they would need to set them to airplane mode so that no data is transmitted.  So you won’t be able to make calls on your smartphone or stream video, but you would be able to rock out to music already downloaded or read a book on a kindle.  Larger devices will still need to be stowed during takeoff and landing because nobody wants to be hit with a laptop, but smaller gadgets will be fair game if the new recommendations are adopted.

To see a Cause Map of this issue, click on “Download PDF” above.